Cowboy Karma by Gary Ives
by Gary Ives
Hamer Hogue had a run of good luck. Finally. The sixty dollars and two mules he’d stolen from Gomez had staked his prospecting venture which had struck pay dirt.
He deserved some luck, sure. For two years he’d hauled freight out of Tascosa for that old Comanchero skinflint. Those two years during which he’d yearned to get back to the little spring fed stream he had found on the run from two cowboys who had caught him rifling their saddle bags at a camp they’d shared one night. Though they were hot after him, he’d managed to elude them by brushing out his tracks and heading straight up a steep, stony rise. Intending to crest the little mountain, he’d come across the little stream and camped there overnight. The area showed plenty of rose quartz, and didn’t a show of rose quartz often lead to gold?
For three long weeks tending the sluice box, he’d turned good color. Excepting Indians, nobody knew the existence of the little unnamed stream which had produced mighty good placer, mostly dust, a little flake, and nine decent nuggets. Once the placer began giving out he would sell the claim to some sucker. Soon he would cache the sluice box and supplies then on to Amarillo to take care of business.
At the livery stable Hamer felt generous handing the boy a half-dime because the kid smiled and said “yessir” like he meant it. Wasn’t many called me sir, he thought. First a bath and a shave then some decent grub. Soaking in the barber’s big wooden tub he reckoned life had never looked rosier, and he’d never felt better. He looked forward to a sweet night in some whore’s jellyroll.
A very tired Miss Maisey Spooner was watching the three cowpokes lose their money at the faro table when she spotted him. She hoped he’d go away. She’d done the three cowboys that afternoon and was worn out. But no such luck, the ugly asshole left the bar with a bottle of rye and sidled over to her table. Half an hour later they climbed the stairs to Maisey’s room, toting the remnants of the bottle. Sitting on the iron bed they chatted briefly until Maisey began unbuttoning Hamer’s shirt. This made him hard, and he stood to unbuckle his belt. “Now git you over to the basin and wash them man parts real good, honey.” Jesus he’s ugly, looks like half his ear been tore off, she thought. As he tended to this, Maisey slipped from her dress and step-ins. Before she slid under the covers, she downed a couple of swigs of syrup from a bottle of medicine she’d taken from the chifforobe. Soldiers’ Soothing Medicinal Tonic, “What’s that missy, you feelin’ poorly, are ya?”
“Nah honey, jist a l’il sore throat. This rotgut rye goes down my throat kindee rough. Soldiers’ Tonic’s good for all yer ailments. They sell it over to the General Mercantile, you ought to carry you some in case ya ever git sick or snake bit out there in the wilds. What happened to that ear?”
“Don’t fret none ’bout my ear. Might be I got something better ‘n your elixir there can ease that sore throat, heh, heh.” The maimed ear was a sensitive issue with him. It had been bitten off in a fight with an army cook, the fat sonofabitch.
The rest of the night was pleasurable for Hamer, if not for Maisey, and in the morning before he left he spotted her a five dollar gold piece, flipping the coin onto the bed.
“Hey lamb, it’s fifteen dollars for the whole night.”
“Be glad that fat ass of yours got you five dollars. I kin get laid reg’lar in Tascosa for two dollars.”
“This ain’t Tascosa, mister.”
He walked over to her side of the bed then backhanded her. “So long darlin’, thanks for the ride.”
He bought some grub and supplies including three bottles of Soldiers’ Soothing Medicinal Tonic, then headed back out to the strike. He’d work it further upstream this time. The stream could freeze within another three weeks. Although he didn’t expect much more yield in placer, there was always a chance for nuggets. Even if the strike had played out as he believed, his having worked it for six weeks then showing up with so goddamn many ounces of placer and a spoonful of nuggets would attract just the kind of attention to make the claim sell. Yessir, he’d sell the petered-out sumbitch. He’d be rich, and he’d damn sure have enough to buy his own freight business. In the two years he’d worked as a freighter and teamster for Ernesto Gomez, Hamer believed he had learned the business. Old Gomez never listened to him. Like his idea for using mule teams instead of those goddamn slow oxen. Gomez used mules only for short local town hauls. How many times did he tell the old fart, “Mules is twice as fast as them dumb oxen which means you could make lots more long haul runs, huh?” No, Gomez would have none of it. “No, no, no,” he’d whine, “these sweet oxen can forage all along the way; but you gotta carry provender for them ornery mules, and eight mules eat a shit load of oats. Something else, Apache and Comanche don’t give a shit about no oxen, but they got a taste for long eared horse. You savvy, hombre?” The old fool. With such sound, modern ideas, he, Hamer Hogue, would be a business man, owner of freight hauling company and a depot, a man of substance. He’d be a mister. Folks would say “sir.”
Before starting the climb up the mountain, he made camp on the Little Sandy for the night to make sure he wasn’t followed. Next afternoon half a mile up he hobbled his mare then spent an hour brushing tracks before resuming the climb. At camp, he unearthed the sluice box and pans from them and spent the rest of the day setting the box in a bend a couple of hundred yards further upstream.
Two days later he began to be bothered by a burning sensation when he pissed. This he laid on the bad rye that the whore had complained of. He took up the cup of pinto beans he’d put to soak in the stream then put them on to boil with a little sage, adding a sliver of bacon he’d cut from a slab. At the stream, he drank two full cups of water to flush the remnants of that rye out of his prick. By his next morning’s piss his prick felt like a lit cigar, and he realized it wasn’t the rye, oh no, she had poxed him, dammit all to hell. He looked at the label on the Soldiers Soothing Medicinal Tonic bottle depicting a stern-faced mustachioed trooper in a kepi– a powerful decoction of opium, copaibril oil, extract of chokecherry bark and seven secret Indian herbs. For coughs, fevers, dyspepsia, swellings, disturbances of the intestines, abrasions, colic, toothache, complaints of the liver, bile, kidneys, bladder, stomach, spleen, and privates, melancholia, anemia, and dropsy. Down the hatch. His older brother Rudy who caught the pox regularly had told him that Mormon Tea was the cure. “Says so in the Bible,” he said. Rudy, a preacher, oughta know. Hamer had seen plenty of Mormon Tea growing half way down the slope. Maybe the Mormon Tea would, but by Jesus, something better work quick as his pecker felt like it just left the blacksmith’s forge. It was taking him three or four minutes to pee, and now he dreaded having to go through the ordeal again, but the coffee he’d downed for breakfast was calling for relief. He stepped out of his britches and lay prone in the icy stream which gave him some relief and allowed the urine to trickle out with less pain. Was the Soldiers’ Tonic working? Maybe, so after he dressed he downed big tote of the syrup before he headed down the slope to gather Mormon Tea plants.
After four days of drinking nothing but boiled Mormon Tea followed by two days of Soldier’s Soothing Tonic, the drip and the pain subsided, and by gum didn’t he feel good. Really good, but sleepy all the time. Between naps the sluice box had yielded only a little placer, but he’d panned three good pea size nuggets.
Hamer broke down the sluice box and loaded the mules. A good box could fetch fifteen dollars easy in town. On the way to town he mulled over his fortune.
The placer dust, mostly flour and flake, the nuggets, and the sale of his claim could easily bring over six thousand dollars to Hamer who now considered himself a rich man. At $200 each he’d need $1600 for each team of eight mules. Freight wagons went for $700. As he led the mules down the slope, he cogitated his new-found riches. First off, I’ll buy me a fine suit of clothes, a fancy hat, and maybe buy me a whole case of that Soldiers’ Tonic.
At the Little Sandy they were waiting for him, Charley Spooner and a Mexican vaquero called Ramon. The vaquero roped Hamer, snatching him from his mule and dragging him in the stream bed for fifty yards. By the end of his ride his nose was broken and bleeding, and he was covered in lacerations and cactus spines. Hamer was on his hands and knees when Charley Spooner rode up alongside him pointing a shotgun down on him. “I oughta blow your guts open, you sorry shit. And I will, do I ever hear of you cheating a poor workin’ girl outta her due. Maisy Spooner is my sister, and mister, you went and stepped in shit when you wronged that lady. Now you gonna take off your boots and your pants whiles me and Ramon here inspect what you got in them saddlebags.”
Twenty minutes later they left with Hamer’s boots, pants, and his gold. “Don’t you never show your face in town again. I see you, I’ll kill you. We’re leaving you your mules, on accounta we are merciful, and also on account of we spotted a half-dozen Comanche braves camped about three miles upstream. Ramon says they look like a war party.” He fired a shot from his revolver into the air., “Should be along right soon.”
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright Gary Ives 2017